Nearly every Friday afternoon, I receive a phone call from an old friend wishing me “Shabbat Shalom.”  In this day and age when few people pick up the phone to ask and truly care about how another person is doing, it is very refreshing.  Even on a busy Friday with Shabbat starting just after 4 pm, I look forward to Jeremy’s call.

I suspect I am not the only person who benefits from and appreciates Jeremy and his many fine qualities.  This became clear during a recent event sponsored by Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac, Maryland.  Assistant Rabbi, Eitan Cooper had planned to host Jeremy at the shul’s yearly Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Program, but Covid led to a shift to a virtual program.  Nearly 100 people were captivated by Jeremy’s sincerity, openness and passion as he spoke with Rabbi Cooper and the community about disabilities—his own and in general– inclusion and his personal Jewish journey. Jeremy received applause when Rabbi Cooper explained his role working in a supply center of a local hospital.  Jeremy was proudly wearing a sticker noting that he is a valued and essential worker—he has been going to work each day (except for Shabbat!) during the pandemic.

Jeremy grew up in a very committed Jewish family in the Washington, DC suburbs. I have known Jeremy for nearly 20 years many years as part of the Camp Ramah in New England community.   I worked with Jeremy in the Tikvah Program, and led a trip to Israel with Jeremy and several others nearly 20 years ago.

Jeremy spoke about what inclusion in the Jewish community really means.  He described how he was warmly embraced and welcome in to community member’s homes when he lived in New Haven, CT as part of a training program.  Jeremy was also warmly welcomed in to the Yale University Slifka Center community by students and by rabbis, and by rabbis and families in the larger community. Jeremy spoke fondly about a former New Haven, Chabad Rabbi, Yossi Hodakov, and by many Chabad Rabbis in the DC area.  Jeremy has shared with me that he regularly davens and (pre-Covid) eats with the loving Chabad Israel Center community close to his home.

David Ervin, Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes (JFGH), noted how hard it is to follow Jeremy as a speaker!  The JFGH provides individuals with developmental disabilities and/or chronic mental disorders with the opportunity to live independently within the community.

Everybody should find time on this short Friday to watch the inspiring interview with Jeremy and to pick up the phone to wish a friend or family member, “Shabbat Shalom.”  Thanks Jeremy for being such a great teacher!

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I was delighted to see the response to my post, A Modest Proposal: Jewish Organizations Supporting Disability (Owned and Friendly) Businesses.  I will continue to give a shout out to other organizations supporting such businesses.

How could I forget to include FAISR (Friends of Access Israel) in the last post?  I was honored to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with FAISR and four people with paraplegia this past February?  When I told FAISR Executive Director, James Lassner, about Spectrum Design—and their amazing t-shirts, sweatshirts and more, he could not reach out to this Port Washington, Long Island (New York)-based company fast enough.  Our beautiful sweatshirt was created and produced by people with disabilities at Spectrum Design Please read my write up about them here.

I also remembered that Sunflower Bakery in Rockville, MD (with a café in Bethesda!)  is both well known as a provider of skilled job training and employment opportunities in the baking and hospitality industries, and a provider of amazing kosher baked goods to many synagogues, Jewish day schools and Jewish Federations—though sales have been understandably down in this age of Covid. 

It is exciting to read about more and more businesses employing and created and run by people with disabilities.  On December 3-5, the Creative Workforce Solutions Conference will take place online.  It is virtual conference to promote special needs focused entrepreneurship and social enterprises.  It is very affordable and features a number of places I have visited across the country as I work to create a map of such businesses by state and by industry. Hope to see you there!

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